It’s not often a guy working on his PhD in theoretical computer science is also one of the hottest Chinese DJs in North America, but there’s always an exception and Louis Yu (余雷) fits that role. Originally from Guilin, China, he’s currently in Vancouver, Canada studying at the University of Victoria while also doing a weekly podcast featuring world indie music.
And where can you find his 30 minute weekly podcast? It’s right here on www.wooozy.cn where you can catch this week’s show plus access the archive for all previous editions once you’re hooked. The difference with Louis’ show is that all the introductions are in Mandarin rather than English. It’s his way to bring a new style of music to an audience more familiar with Asian pop in a easy to digest manner. Starting in September, he’ll be switching to a show highlighting an equal balance of both Western & Chinese music.
Lou was kind enough to share his thoughts on China’s current music scene. As he is a Chinese expat very familiar with indie music throughout the world, I felt his opinions would be a nice contrast to the western voices we’ve heard reporting from China.
“I wouldn’t say that Chinese indie right now is up to the standard of the indie bands in Sweden, Canada, US, England, Australia, Japan, or even Iceland. Mainly, each of these countries has a brand of indie music that is “unique”; Sweden has Swedish pop, England has Brit pop, Japan has Shibuya Kei (you get the idea). Chinese indie bands right now are very much motivated by a sense of “fashion” (as in, it is “hip” to do indie music right now, so we’re “cool” for doing it, we’re “fashionable”), you know, the way I felt when I was a indie snob in high school.
As a result, they’re not fully developed in term of style and composition (“oh, Yeah Yeah Yeahs is cool right now, let’s do a version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs”, thus you get the Chinese band “Queen Sea Big Shark”. Or, “oh, we love Sonic Youth, they’re so cool, let’s do our version of Sonic Youth”, thus you get Carsick Cars, which is Sonic Youth’s guitar noise babble, but without the sense of humor, melody, craft and composition, you just get the 2 chord, 3 chord guitar babble) Most bands are just copying random Western indie bands, they don’t know WHY they’re making indie music, or rather, what indie music is. It should be craft on songs, melody, and lyrics the foremost, not styles you pick and choose from swatches because they happen to be “hip” at the moment.
Obviously you can’t be too hard on these bands as 1) the media control limits these band’s influences, 2) it is brave of them in the first place to make music, to express themselves and 3) they got a late start on everyone else and are operating mostly underground…
That being said, like most things in China, Chinese indie has the ability to surprise the hell out of everybody. For one, it’s growing and progressing in such an alarming speed. I mean, the quality of the music got so much better just within the last 4-5 months, I personally can see the progress from when I first really paid attention to the Chinese indie scene a year ago, till now.
Sure on the surface, there are the “major” Chinese indie bands like Carsick Cars, Snapline, Ourselves Beside Me, PK14, Hang On The Box, Demerit and White (maybe Mars Bands), or New Pants, Convenient Store, Queen Sea Big Shark, Boojii (Modern Sky bands). Here are another two labels you should pay attention to:
1) Miniless Records – founded by a friend of mine, Hanhan (the guy knows his indie rock, very knowledgeable), who is in a band called Lava/Ox/Sea. They’re this really cool post-rock, guitar jam band. The new album is really cool, very “OK Computer era Radiohead” style. Other bands signed to Miniless include Fading Horizon and Muscle Snog; both are excellent bands as well.
3) Shan Shui Records – which is a electronic record mainly, they own the distribution in China for Kid606, electronic artists sign to it such as Sulumi (who founded the label), AMU (8-bit, video game music), Dead-J (ambient stuff) are all pretty good.
Other than that, those would be the 5 labels I mainly pay attention to, the rest scatters around, like Top Floor Circus, with their jokester antics, are very very amusing.
or 21 Grams, with their movie soundtrack; slow, drone rock (can you say Mogwai?), can be some people’s cup of tea:
or the Brit-pop of Shanghai band Yu Guo (Brit pop seems to be big in China, a similar style can be found in the Modern Sky bands – Super VC, Convinient Store or Sober):
I-Go, or B6, electro clash stuff from Shanghai:
The Bigger Bang; movie inspired drone rock:
Oh, one last thing; there is one last label, Indie Top, now this label is really poorly funded and the direction is all wrong. They released two compilations, with the attempt at introducing indie music to more of a college crowd. The artists signed to this label are pretty good, but the label’s direction is all wrong thus they pile on the production and made all their artists sounds like Jack Johnson. Pretty bad. But some talented artists signed to this label as well, like the ultra cute Momo, or the teenage angst of The Mushrooms.
Anyway, sorry for the long rant, I got carried away, and there are a lot more artists I didn’t mention. Overall I think indie in China is hopeful, they just need to 1) get out of this gloom and doom mind set, write some songs that are not focused on “weird”, but you know, cute, happy pop songs and 2) get out of this mind set of making indie music because it’s “fashionable”.
Also, if you read Chinese, www.wooozy.cn (yes, the website I post my Chinese podcast on), is a great source to keep up with all the latest in the Chinese indie scene featuring album reviews, concert reviews, concert info and all the latest info on CD releases. If there’s anything happening, you can pretty much find it on wooozy.
Good news! Louis is starting a new one hour show in September called “Sound Unlimited”. It’s going to feature Chinese indie as well as Western indie (50%/50%), plus interviews (he’s working on interviews with Carsick Cars, Ourself Beside Us, and Mushroom Red, also with Western artists such as the Handsome Furs, Emily Haines of Metric (one of my favorite bands) and hopefully a lot more. Once the show is running, we’ll give you the link so you can check him out!